Plainfield East’s Joseph Suarez succeeds at all levels

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From the time Joseph Suarez started workouts before freshman year, the Plainfield East distance runner showed he could succeed at any level.

“I remember telling him, ‘Hey, don’t try to do too much too soon,’ because freshmen don’t usually hang with the varsity guys,’’ East coach Rich Gatz said.

Not only did Suarez hang with the varsity guys, he ran better than a lot of them.

Suarez was among only 12 freshmen in a field of 216 runners at the 2011 Class 3A state meet. He had the second-best freshman time of 15 minutes, 36 seconds, East’s No. 2 runner in the race behind senior Niko Petrusich.

Suarez qualified for the state meet as an individual last season and dropped his time almost a minute to 14:44. He jumped all the way to 19th place to earn All-State status among the top 25.

Although it’s still early in his junior year, Suarez knows where he’d like to be at the end of the season.

“I always wanted to be in the top five,’’ he said. “But as the season goes on, you never know what happens. Nothing is guaranteed. I’ve just got to keep working.’’

That includes a similar path: the Southwest Prairie Conference meet, regional and sectional events and the state final. What’s different is Suarez.

“I definitely feel I’m better,’’ Suarez said of his progress. “Overall, I’m stronger endurance-wise. Maybe not so much speed. I’ve always been a little rusty on that.’’

“He’s gotten more and more confident each year,’’ Gatz said. “He does triathlon all summer. That helps his endurance also. He’s grown confident and smart in terms of how to approach races.’’

Starting with his top conference rival, Plainfield South’s Dan Lathrop, Suarez will face tough competition when it comes to being strong to the end of the race.

Gatz said the finishing kick “is the thing we’re working on the most. … He’s got to work on his speed at the end.’’

Suarez had played soccer for years before high school, but always had it in the back of his mind that he wanted to run. His father, Joe, a runner and triathlete in the 1980s and ’90s, steered his son from soccer toward running.

“I had a lot to do with that,’’ Joe Sr. said with a laugh. “I like soccer, but I knew he had the talent. I had to put him in a triathlon. Once he was in the triathlon, he’d be addicted.’’

The younger Suarez, who’s looking at Texas A&M and Baylor as possible college choices in 2015, said his goal this year is to run “sub-14:25-ish and see where that places me.’’

“The state is getting faster and faster,’’ he said. “Kids work harder and harder each year.’’

So does Suarez.

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